With Paleo diets becoming more popular, it is reasonable that scientists address the issue and try to find out whether this approach to nutrition is actually beneficial. Touted as super-healthy, low-carb diets rich in fats and proteins may have adverse effects on health and are now linked to an increased mortality risk.
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The low-carb delusion
The low-carb trend led to the emergence of many diets based on ditching carbs and switching to fats and proteins instead. The most famous one is the Paleo diet, designed to mimic the nutrition of people before agriculture emerged. Its advocates claim that the human body simply did not have enough time to adapt to the high amounts of carbs that resulted from learning how to grow grains and cultivate other plants, as the transition was way too fast.
While the reasoning behind the explanation may seem logical, it appears that moderate consumption of carbohydrates is just what the body aims at. Contrary to the assumption that humans should prefer meat and other foods rich in fats and proteins, the body seems to thrive on balanced diets, in which carbs make up around a half of the daily calorie intake.
Moderation is key
A team of scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital has reported that reducing the amounts of carbs so that their share of the daily intake is less than 40% is associated with a higher mortality risk. Many low-carb diets restrict carb intake to even lower amounts, such as 20% or less. However, the study demonstrated that failing to eat around a half of the daily calories in the form of carbohydrates can take its toll.
The researchers analyzed the data about almost 15,000 patients from the U.S. collected over the period of 1987-1989. At that time, their age was 45 to 64. Using questionnaires, they reported what they ate regularly, in what amounts, how often, and other nutritional details. The scientists followed the cohort for 25 years. Over this period, over 6,000 participants passed away.
Having compared the outcomes, the scientists came to the conclusion that the best strategy, which apparently promotes longevity, is to get 50% or 55% of the daily calorie intake from high quality carbs. Those who stuck to such a diet outlived those participants who ate less than 40% of carbohydrates by 4 years. Compared to those who ate more carbs that the mentioned mark, the “moderate carb consumption” group lived 1 year longer.
To back their findings with more evidence, the researchers reviewed other studies in which another 432,000 participants were enrolled, and these results were in line with what the experiment showed.
However, the message here is not to make you devour sweets and gulp soda to make up for the lack of carbs in your paleo steak. Carbohydrates can be of different quality: while the empty sugars found in pastry and sweets are to be avoided, starchy foods are a great option to consider. Pasta and vegetables, which are staples in the Mediterranean region known for its healthy diets, are just the right kind of foods to opt for.
Fiber found in carb-rich starchy foods aids digestion, and it is another reason why ditching carbs on the grounds that they allegedly contribute to weight gain is not a wise step. It depends on what carbohydrates there are in the food, and how much of it you supply your body with. As of this moment, the best strategy appears to be to keep your carb intake within the range of 50-55% of calories consumed daily.
There is no need to spend hours calculating how many grams of this or that you have eaten today – following a healthy Mediterranean diet, which is wonderfully balanced, is the easiest and most convenient way to support your body.
Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases – insights.ovid.com
Paleo diet still lacks evidence – academic.oup.com